Home Columns Anantha Narayan One Man, Many Faces

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    It’s not easy being the ninth in a family of 14 children. You have to resort to every trick in the book to catch the eye of your parents. You have to be a maverick to stand out from your platoon of siblings. Fortunately, Subhas Chandra Bose never had to try too hard. You see, it came naturally to him.
    In academics, he was a prodigy of sorts—stood second in Calcutta in the matriculation exams. At college, he was a confirmed rebel—slapped his professor for his anti-India quips. As a 24-year-old, he was a radical—chucked his cushy Indian Civil Services job for a stab at revolution. By 38, he had been an editor twice and had even written a book, which was provocative enough to be banned by the British. At 42, he won a prestige election as the Congress president, defeating the mighty Mahatma Gandhi’s nominee. And at our ever-youth icon Rahul Gandhi’s age, he took on the military prowess of the British Empire, by having the temerity to launch a war in alliance with Japan.
    His official historical narrative ends with an air crash when he was supposedly 48. But, as the recent series of disclosures have indicated, Mr Bose may have flummoxed us all by faking his death. Like many Netaji enthusiasts, I tend to believe in this theory.
    After all, look at his track record. Around 1941, when the Brits were hatching a plan to shut him in jail for a long time, our man grew a beard, wore a black sherwani and disappeared into the cold night, all the way up to Afghanistan, assuming the identity of a deaf-and-dumb Pathan named Mohammad Ziauddin. From there, he slipped into Moscow pretending to be an Italian called Count Orlando Mazzotta. Having failed to convince Stalin, he jumped ship to Germany and shook hands with Hitler and, when he let him down, he took a submarine detour to Japan and assumed the avatar of the head of the Azad Hind Government. If he could outfox the alert Englishmen and the canny Russians, how long do you think it would take our Houdini to fool the Nehru government by donning the saffron garb of Gumnami Baba?
    But the sceptics in our country ask: if the Baba were indeed Netaji, why did he choose to be gumnami (anonymous)? Well, for that, we’ll have to throwback a remixed version of an old Netaji quote at the Modi government: “Tum mujhe files do, main tumhe is controversy se azaadi doonga.”

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